Next week is the week of the exams, and I would like to write my last blog before diving in the study. Since last time I was writing about a subject relating to our studying here, today I would like to discuss about a feature of our life in Utrecht. Something basic: the HOUSING.
Maybe while you are planning to study for your master in Utrecht you imagine yourself sleeping somewhere, and you think of your future room as to one of the details that you’ll set up while organizing your trip in the few weeks before your departure or even once you are arrived. You should not. Finding a room in Utrecht is not a normal housing procedure: it’s a savage hunting in which only the most determined and resilient finally succeed. I will try to illustrate the question according to my personal experience and the ones of my friends in a few (I hope) useful points.
1) The price.
Utrecht is a city of 330.000 inhabitants with more than 60.000 students, and you need not to be an economist in order to understand that prices are going to float high. The lowest prices I’ve had news from real people, talking to me not being ghosts nor fairy dreams, are around 300 euros per month, and they are really few exceptions. The utmost limit is more hardly identifiable, but I know numerous students that pay around 600 per month and even more. I personally pay 430, and I would say that I am not far from the mean. So, to be true, these are probably the prices that you should expect. I know that Dutch students often pay less, but they have the advantage of living on place, and they can subscribe to some mysterious students’ associations with an year of advance, paying very low rents and living with only other Dutch students. But even if you have the chance to be in these waiting lists and to live in such apartments, if you are an international student I would not suggest you to do so (see point 10).
2) When to start looking for a room.
It is a hard question: if you start looking in March probably the room are not available yet, in July and August everybody is on holiday and they won’t answer to your e-mails, while in September it is too late and games are done. I would suggest to start looking as soon as possible, but not because any period is better than others: simply because by looking for a longer period you maximize your chances, and luck is indeed the most important element in your quest. I personally started looking for a room in May, and was not able to find one before the end of August. I would suggest in any case to arrive in Utrecht at least one week before the start of your courses, if you still have not a room (I kept looking for a room during the summer-school).
3) Short Stay Housing: SSH
The Short Stay is at first sight the easiest chance to get a room, since Utrecht University recommends it to you. Moving on time, it is actually easy to find a room with SSH, if you are ready to pay those prices. And while you pay 600 euros for your apartment, you should also remember that the Dutch student besides you, who booked one year in advance, is paying 200 euros less every month for the same house, because he/she received his/her apartment “unfurnished”. But of course, you literally live on campus, so if you can pay for it that can worth the price.
The first option that internet suggests you in order to look for rooms is Kamernet. Whether Kamernet is a valuable instrument to look for rooms, it is hard to say. Personally, I had an account for two weeks, and I was sending around 30 e-mails without receiving one answer. But I heard from some people that they were sending 180 e-mails and received around 15 answers, so it must be a matter of proportions. But you should not rely too much on this website: you see a lot of attractive announcements but the problem is that people don’t remove their announcements even if they found someone, so the site is full of ghost announcements that continuously renovate themselves. Furthermore, the quest is so savage that landlords (I was talking with some of them) receive hundreds of messages and they only reply to people they like (see point 9). No matter if you decide whether to open or not an account on Kamernet, the only thing I want you to be aware is that after two weeks the account will renovate automatically, and you will be charged the fee without being asked: to avoid it you have to de-select the option somewhere in the settings of your account (I was advised like I’m now advising you).
5) So, where should I look?
I would say that the best resources are the free open groups: on facebook you can find a lot of them. In the summer 2014 I subscribed to the following groups: “I know a place…Utrecht”, “Find a room(mate) or house in Utrecht”, “Rooms/kamer/zimm in Utrecht”, “Housing Utrecht”, “Utrecht free adds”, “Utrecht international students”. Maybe when you will look for a room they won’t exist anymore, but for sure some others will be there. Just type “room” and “Utrecht” on facebook and you will find something. The self-organisation of students is always the best resource –and it was on one of these groups that I found a room for the period of the Summer-school. The problem of these groups is that you find a lot of announcements of people looking for rooms, and a few rooms offered –assaulted by crowds of comments and likes. But you should not be discouraged, and by following point 9 you can maximize your chances. There is also a very useful free group on google (firstname.lastname@example.org) and it is actually there that I found the room where I am in this very moment.
6) How far should I look?
If you watch on googlemaps distances look quite bigger than they are, also because you have to assume that you will move by bike (and on the other hand times that googlemaps gives for bikes are quite trustable). I live in Tuindorp - Oost, in a street that looks quite far from the center and from the campus by the map, but indeed it takes me from 8 to 12 minutes to get to both, depending on my delay. You should imagine yourself biking in the morning under the rain to get to classes: I would say that 12 minutes is still an acceptable time –less would be better, I would maybe not recommend much more. If you live in Lombok, for instance, it can take from 15 to 20 minutes to get to the campus; but on the other hand you live closer to the center. It is a matter of choice. All I suggest is: don’t get scared by the map of the city when you look for a room –only check the distances in biking time on google.
7) To Zeist or not to Zeist.
If you choose to live in Zeist (a small city not far from Utrecht and not very very far from the Uithof) you can maybe find prices slightly lower than in Utrecht. Still, I strongly suggest you not to live there. It will take you at least 30 minutes by bike every morning to get to the campus, and 30 going back (the center is further). And most of the time it will be raining. You can take a bus, but busses are expensive –so your small advantage of price fades away. Furthermore you would maybe like to go out in the evening once in a while: you will have to bike in the dark, or to keep a constant look at the last bus in order to go back. And all your friends will propose you every times to sleep to their places, but you will never accept because the following morning you have to study. This is what happens with my friends who live in Zeist.
8) The market of personalities.
In Utrecht, competition for rooms is so high that landlords (or more often actual tenants) can afford themselves the luxury to select prospective tenants according to their personalities and their characters. So if you ask for a room, you will probably be invited for an individual meeting or for a “borrel” (a collective social meeting) where the actual tenants of the house choose from the aspiring flat-mates the ones they prefer to live with. This is something not even possible to imagine in other cities, for instance Rome, where there is a more balanced equilibrium between demand and supply and landlords are already happy enough if they can find a tenant that takes their rooms at the market price. But in Utrecht the situation is different, so you should prepare your smile and your better jokes and try to be the lucky one among the other room-hunters. But this is also an occasion to check if you actually like the room, and it is indeed always better to verify in person the apartment before paying the deposit and signing the contract. I was going to take a room in Lombok which seemed very nice from pictures, but once I saw the place I really could not fall in love with the house, even with all my experience of tent-sleeping and back-pack voyaging. On the other hand, when I was invited to meet my actual flatmates in an individual meeting, I really liked the house (which had the same price) and I really liked them (so these meeting are a good occasion for you as well to choose your future friends). They were meeting 13 students to find a flatmate, and apparently this was the first exam that I passed in Utrecht (and I hope not the last one). But I confess that I played dirty: by pushing on the Italian stereotype I claimed that I know how to make pizza and so defeated all the other competitors. And my claim is actually true, but I have had no occasion to demonstrate it so far. When it will happen, I’ll let you know.
9) Introduce yourself.
The problem is that if you are looking for rooms when you are in your home country you cannot even participate in such interviews or “borrels”. So what you should at least do is to write a very detailed and convincing presentation of yourself, to add in the mails you send on your posts on facebook, together with some nice pictures of yourself. This is always because of the fierce competition around the few available rooms, so you have to convince your future landlords or flat-mates. You don’t need to do anything more than being honest: describe yourself, your philosophy and interests, what you would like from a room or from your flat-mates. It is really worth spending some time on it, I was sending tonnes of standard and neutral e-mails asking for rooms (used as I was to roman standards), and I only started to receive answers when I added pictures and detailed “nice” presentations.
10) The company.
You will probably experience a long and severe winter during your master in Utrecht, so your flat-mates are presumably the people you are going to meet the most, together with your master fellows –you will probably spend time with them all the evenings that you don’t feel like struggling with the wind and the rain in order to meet someone else. So I would say that they are one of the main variables in your quest. I actually chose my present room mainly for my flat-mates (I send them a hug if they are reading! –Chay should still clean the kitchen) and I’m really happy on that side. We are three, around the same age, one English guy, one Dutch, and a spaghetti-eater (me). One thing I would suggest: Dutch students are generally really foreign friendly, but still I would not live in a flat where you are the only foreigner with other 9 Dutch students, especially if they are particularly young. I experienced that during the summer-course, and it was not easy at all to integrate. Furthermore, I had stories from two different people who were asked to leave the dining rooms because some exclusive parties were held at which they were not invited (Dutch students can have mysterious fraternities that tend to have these kinds of approaches –something incomprehensible to my mentality).
I hope that these points will be somehow useful to you and I now definitely need to go studying!